One mayoral candidate, Kathryn Garcia, said that she would let New Yorkers trade in guns for $2,000 in cash.
Another, Shaun Donovan, said he would demand the city’s five district attorneys fast-track gun cases.
A third, Maya Wiley, considered one of the more left-leaning candidates in the race, stuck to her message, pledging to appoint a civilian police commissioner.
Following a shooting in Times Square on Saturday that injured three bystanders, including a child and a tourist, nearly all of the leading mayoral candidates used campaign appearances this week to describe how they would reduce crime without discriminating against New Yorkers of color.
The frenzy of barnstorming comes at a potentially pivotal moment in the most important New York mayor’s race in a generation. With just six weeks to go before the Democratic primary, New York is still facing an economic crisis and other fallout from the pandemic. Yet the city’s rising wave of shootings has taken center stage.
It has transformed the race for Manhattan’s chief prosecutor, too, shifting a contest that in January was almost wholly focused on making the criminal justice system more fair.
In recent weeks, some of the former prosecutors in the race have taken pains to emphasize the importance of public safety, and Liz Crotty, the most consistently safety-focused candidate, was endorsed by four different police unions and a former police commissioner, Raymond W. Kelly. Several candidates with non-prosecutorial backgrounds have scrambled to add plans for protecting the public and stemming the violence to their websites.
As of May 2, 463 New Yorkers have fallen victim to shootings, compared with 259 in the same period last year. Mayor Bill de Blasio, who is now in his final year in office, routinely blames the rise in shootings on the mass unemployment wrought by the pandemic, and a coronavirus-related slowdown in court proceedings.
His police commissioner, Dermot F. Shea, has an alternate theory: that the criminal justice reforms recently enacted by the state government make it too hard to jail people suspected of crimes.
Criminologists say that it is difficult to say with any precision what has led to the increase in gun violence, which has risen sharply in cities across the country.
Several experts said that the surge in violence might be related to the pandemic. Richard Berk, a professor of criminology and statistics at the University of Pennsylvania, said that specific Covid-related causes could include the lack of after-school programming and slowdowns in prosecutors’ and courts’ ability to process cases.
Rather than speculate on the cause for the shootings, the mayoral candidates criticized their opponents for not paying closer attention to the phenomenon.
On Tuesday, Mr. Donovan, a former Obama administration housing secretary, invited reporters to join him in front of the station house for the 73rd Precinct, which includes Brownsville, a neighborhood in Brooklyn that has had 26 shooting victims this year, compared with 12 in the same period last year.
“A tragic shooting in Times Square should not wake candidates up for the first time on this issue,” Mr. Donovan said in an interview, echoing similar comments made earlier this week by Eric Adams, the Brooklyn borough president. “There was a man shot and killed on Church Avenue last week that didn’t get nearly the same amount of attention.”
Mr. Donovan argued that as mayor, he would lean on the city’s five district attorneys, over whom he has no formal control, to fast-track felony gun cases, which he says take twice as long in New York City than in the rest of the state.
Mr. Donovan, who also worked in the Bloomberg administration, rarely mentions the former mayor on the trail, but on Tuesday he praised Mr. Bloomberg’s efforts to stem gun violence, and said he would seek to emulate them.
“We’re not manufacturing guns here in New York, we are not selling them at stores in our neighborhoods, they are coming from out of state,” Mr. Donovan said. “The only way to end the flow of illegal guns into the city is to build partnerships with President Biden with Attorney General Garland, with all our law enforcement agencies but also with mayors and governors across the region and across the country.”
Across town, Ms. Wiley, a civil rights advocate, held forth outside of City Hall. After she left her position as counsel to Mr. de Blasio, he appointed her as chair of the Civilian Complaint Review Board, which has some oversight of police disciplinary matters.
Ms. Wiley, who is Black, said she knows what it means to both fear the police and to fear crime, and she decried the “false choice” between being “safe from crime” and being “safe from police violence.”
She said that with her as mayor, the false choice would end. She would send more resources to the board she once chaired, and she would appoint a civilian police commissioner who did not rise “through a culture of silence” at the police department. She said she would appoint a commission to revise the police guide so that it clearly penalizes excessive force.
And while she took pains to humanize police officers — “police officers are people,” she said — she also said the police force is far too large, and she would cancel two years of new police cadets.
Back in Brooklyn, outside of the 90th Precinct station house in Williamsburg, Ms. Garcia, Mr. de Blasio’s former sanitation commissioner, said that her administration would make getting illegal guns off the street a priority. Among other things, she would expand the Police Department’s gun violence suppression division, which focuses on the trafficking of illegal guns, and induce New Yorkers to trade in guns by increasing the rebate per gun to $2,000 from $200.
“We want New Yorkers to have the money to buy necessities and pay rent, not guns,” Ms. Garcia said.
Three other candidates had held crime-related news conferences earlier this week. Two have not held events to discuss the issue: the New York City comptroller, Scott M. Stringer, and Dianne Morales, a former nonprofit executive who has proposed to cut the Police Department’s operating budget by more than half.
Alicka Ampry-Samuel, a councilwoman who represents the Brownsville neighborhood in Brooklyn, said she endorsed Mr. Adams for mayor because he would amplify initiatives that were already underway to reduce gun violence, such as an experiment called the Brownsville Safety Alliance, in which police withdrew from a crime hot spot for five days and were replaced by groups that work to defuse gun and gang violence.
“We do know when people get shot in Brownsville because they are always talking about it,” she said, taking issue with Mr. Donovan. “I would love for folks to talk about solutions.”
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